KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Knox County bus drivers are facing tougher penalties under a new law designed to cut down on distracted driving.
In grand jury indictments from May 17, 2017, four different Knox County school bus drivers were indicted on separate charges related to using a cell phone while driving a school bus. Kellie Rudd, Marvin Hawkins, Margo Glory-Hicks and Robert Newman were indicted.
Hicks is accused on March 8 of using a cell phone while the bus she was driving was in motion with children on board and while the bus was stopped for loading or unloading children. Hawkins, Rudd and Newman are facing the same charges for separate incidents on March 20, March 2 and April 7.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen, Knoxville Rep. Eddie Smith and Knoxville Sen. Becky Duncan Massey worked to pass tougher penalties for bus drivers caught using a cell phone while driving after a deadly Knox County School bus crash in December 2014. After the crash, which killed a teacher’s aid and two students, investigators determined the bus driver was texting while driving.
“It’s not just about the harsher penalties,” Smith said. “It’s about making the bus drivers understand that their number one priority are the kids that are on those buses. The bus crash in Knox County was attributed to the bus driver looking down at his phone. He over-corrected the bus, T-boned the bus and ended up costing the lives of two children and a teacher’s assistant,so put the device down, focus on the kids, and if you don’t we’re going to make very stiff penalties so you can’t drive again and you’re not endangering our kids.”
Massey sponsored the bill in the state senate, with the law passing near unanimously in both houses last year.
“I believe it will be a deterrent once people realize that is the law,” Massey said. “It really hit home with us and since then we’ve been looking at ways to make things more stringent because when we’re entrusting our children, we put them on a bus with the expectation that they’re going to get from school and to school safely.”Previous story: Investigations reveal text messages with alleged prostitute moments before deadly Knox County Schools bus crash
The new law increased penalties for bus drivers caught on a mobile device from $50 to confinement for more than 30 days. Previously, bus driver’s licenses were only revoked if they committed certain crimes while using a mobile device, such as manslaughter. However, under the new law, drivers are not allowed to operate a school bus in the state of Tennessee.
WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to Knox County Schools for a comment. KCS spokesperson Carly Harrington said that all four of the bus drivers charged have been removed from the approved driver roster.
“We take these allegations very seriously, but can’t comment further on pending matters before the court,” she said in a statement. “If a student sees their bus driver inappropriately using a cell phone they should report it to a teacher or school administrator at their earliest opportunity.”
The four drivers charged were employed by three different bus contractors. WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to those companies today; only one agreed to comment.Charles Lynch, Jr., owner of Lynch Bus Lines, said two of the drivers charged worked for his company and have since been fired. He also said he’s been educating his drivers about the new law and most have been complying with the rules.
Lynch Bus Lines’ policy mandates that in the event a driver needs to place or receive a call, he/she must be pulled over with the bus put in park with hazard lights on. The phone call must only be between the driver and emergency services, the owners of the bus company, or Knox County School System.